Security forces patrolled the city after dispersing the demonstration against King Letsie III's dissolution of the government and parliament. More than 2,000 people had marched on the palace after the king announced in a radio broadcast that he was dismissing the 16- month-old government of the Prime Minister, Ntsu Mokhehle. The monarch said he was also suspending part of the constitution and ordering fresh elections because people were dissatisfied with the government.
However, Western diplomats said officials of the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) government were working normally, apparently ignoring the King. The BCP easily won elections in March last year that were the country's first multi-party polls for 20 years.
Witnesses said that at first police and soldiers merely dispersed BCP supporters approaching the palace. But protesters regrouped and insisted on returning to hand over a petition demanding that Lesotho become a republic.
'The shooting started after an army vehicle went into the crowd and the protesters threw stones at the vehicle,' one witness said. 'Those inside the army truck then started shooting, and police and soldiers guarding the palace joined in and fired at the people.'
The King said that a council representing all the people was being set up to run the country in place of Mr Mokhehle's government. The King's father, Moshoeshoe, was deposed and went into exile in Britain in 1990 after differences with the then military rulers. The BCP has faced popular dissent, particularly over how Moshoeshoe was ousted.
On Monday, five opposition parties petitioned King Letsie to stand down and permit the return of his father. The king is reported to be in favour of such a move, leaving power in the hands of a newly elected government.
Mandela's 100 days, page 13